The Posse

By Tim Love 8/31/2015

The best team for a specific job at a specific time

The best team for a specific job at a specific time

The term derives from the Latin posse comitatūs, “power of the community,” in English use from the late 16th century, shortened to posse from the mid 17th century. The original meaning refers to a group of citizens assembled by the authorities to deal with an emergency (such as suppressing a riot or pursuing felons).

A posse is an American twist on the uber-example of a management structure in Western culture: Jesus and his disciples, a decidedly top-down organization. Instead of a team that offers support and “bears witness”, a posse is comprised of entrepreneurial specialists who can just barely be coordinated into a cohesive group. In fact, it is precisely this tension between an organizational plan and sometimes-risky individual initiative that makes a posse a popular genre in Westerns and crime dramas.

For a posse to work, the leader who has assembled the group needs to convince the team that the goal is worth achieving, and he understands that a successful plan needs to be worked out collaboratively with equal input from all of the potential participants. Given the provisional nature of the posse, the relative balance of risk and reward needs to be made by each team member before they agree to participate. In most films of this genre, one person decides to drop out just before the action starts as a way to highlight the role of individual choice and initiative. It is precisely the fact that neither a pre-existing nor a future organizational structure exists that guarantees personal motivation and a focus on the task at hand.

For this reason, Utile has chosen to work as an independent architecture and planning practice rather than become part of a large A/E firm. Instead of having all disciplines under one roof, Utile customizes its teams by assembling individuals from other firms based on the necessary skill sets and the personal motivations of potential team members.

The other notable characteristic of a posse is that it is comprised in equal measure of people who have worked together in the past and of newcomers who possess specific skills or motivations. Utile gathers its posses for projects with a similar outlook. Gary Hilderbrand, Eric Kramer, Chris Moyles, and Kristin Frederickson, landscape architects at Reed Hilderbrand; Jason Schrieber, Ralph DeNisco, Lisa Jacobson, Liza Cohen, transportation planners at Nelson Nygaard; Kevin Hively, a job sector-focused economic development consultant; and Jamie Springer, Kate Coburn, Candace Damon, Connie Chung, Kyle Vangel, and Shuprotim Bhaumik, consultants at HR&A, a development strategy firm, are all veterans of Utile’s posse.

At the same time, we’re always on the lookout for new safe-crackers and sharp-shooters. Dan D’Oca, a planner with Interboro; Ona Ferguson, a consensus-building consultant at CBI; and Aya Maruyama, Kenneth Bailey, and Lori Lobenstine of DS4SI are key members of some of our newly formed teams. Given their extraordinary efforts to date, they will be called again when Utile needs to form a future posse.